According to Wikipedia:

Homeric Greek does not have a historical present tense, but rather uses injunctives. Injunctives are replaced by the historical present in the post-Homeric writings of Thucydides and Herodotus.

But also according to Wikipedia:

Ancient Greek has words that are formally similar to the Sanskrit injunctive mood, consisting of aorist and imperfect forms lacking the augment. However, in this case there is no difference in meaning between these forms and the normal augmented forms.

I'm a bit confused: the first quote seems to be saying that injunctives are something special, separate from the aorist or imperfect, while the latter says the opposite.

So: are these "injunctives" really a special form in Homeric/Epic Greek, separate from the aorist and imperfect? And is there any difference in meaning between an "injunctive" and an aorist form, e.g. that might make the former equivalent to a historic present and the latter not?

  • 1
    Sihler "A new comparative grammar" par. 416 discusses this debated and controversial matter. Do you have a copy?
    – fdb
    Dec 16, 2018 at 13:39
  • @fdb Interesting! I'm afraid I do not, but I can check the library.
    – Draconis
    Dec 16, 2018 at 16:50
  • @fdb The library does have a copy, though it's non-circulating so I'll have to go across town to access it. I'll be able to do that in a few days, but in the meantime you're free to write up a summary if you like.
    – Draconis
    Dec 17, 2018 at 1:17
  • If you can read German, the German Wikipedia has a better exposition of the injunctive here: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Injunktiv The references given there are all in German language! Dec 17, 2018 at 16:15
  • Mycenaean didn't have augments, which confuses me. If the Vedic past prefix a- is really cognate with the Greek augment, then you would think that the common feature would have been present when pre-Greek was imported from Asia to Greece, and therefore would have been present in Mycenaean. Since that's not the case, would the idea have to be that the fusion of the time adverb with the verb showed parallel evolution between the two languages?
    – user3597
    Nov 6, 2021 at 14:03

1 Answer 1


Both articles are correct: Homeric Greek had injunctive forms that looked different from the "normal" past tenses, but they didn't mean anything different.

In late Proto-Indo-European, or at least some branches of it, the pure aspect system had started to turn into the mixed tense-aspect system we see in Greek and Latin. In what would become Greek (and also what would become Sanskrit, and potentially some others), the usual past-tense marker was an "augment" vowel stuck onto the beginning of the word.

The "injunctive", then, remained a pure-aspect form. It had no tense and no mood at all: all it had was aspect and person/number marking. This is how it shows up in early (Vedic) Sanskrit. The "injunctive" forms in Vedic can take on any tense and mood, based on the context, and even fill in for some gaps in the imperative paradigm (where Greek uses μὴ + imperative and Latin uses nolī + infinitive, Vedic uses + injunctive—this is how it got its name).

In Greek, it wasn't nearly as widespread. Its original tense-less meaning was pretty much lost: by Homer's time it was mainly used for the past tense, seldom the present or future. In form, it looked exactly like the imperfect (for the imperfective injunctive) or aorist (for the aoristic injunctive) missing its augment. That is, it was both redundant, and made an awkward irregularity in the rule of "all past-tense forms get an augment"—and so it was unceremoniously disposed of.

Nowadays, the use of the term "injunctive" in Ancient Greek is really just for historical reasons. There's no special meaning to those forms, not even in Epic dialect, and they could just as well be called "unaugmented past"; the name "injunctive" just comes from their PIE ancestor.

(Main source: Kiparsky 2005, plus a large number of abstracts I couldn't find full-text for.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.